It turns out the pack clinic is not really a clinic at all, but instead a full blown hospital meant to care for its ever growing pack.
The three story building has a pediatric wing and OBGYN on the first floor, labs and OR rooms on the second floor and the refugee women placed temporarily on the third floor.
The first floor was once the infirmary but with Celina, Aurora, and Valentina being healers, it was no longer needed and the hospital was rearranged to house the Amethyst women and children.
Celina briefs me on the work they’ve been doing with the girls as we make our way to the third floor.
“About 200 men, women and children were rescued from Amethyst Lake, half of which live here on the third floor while the rest are at Lluvia Blanca,” she explains, my eyes growing wide at the sheer amount of survivors from the fallen pack.
“Thirty men were rescued with the women, most of them victims of the no mate rule Nikolai imposed against them.They are good men who just want to love their mates, so we are not really concerned about them being here.Only authorized and mated males are allowed on the third floor,”she continues.
“We don’t need an unmated male going crazy and assaulting one of our girls if she goes into heat.You’ll see authorized badge.” The living arrangements are pretty clear.
We prioritized preserving family units so mothers, children and mated pairs are roomed together while unmated women and siblings are housed together, three or four to a room.
Many of the orphaned children were adopted either by some of the women here or by members of the Kingdom who were willing and able to take on a child or two.
No one here is a prisoner.
They can come and go as they please.
Most, though, prefer to stay here and only go out when there’s a group activity.
We’re still working on them gaining confidence to be independent but it will be a while before all of them are comfortable being on their own.
Our main job here is to make sure they feel safe on their own and provide a learning environment where they can grow and develop as individuals.
Our volunteers take turns cooking meals, taking the girls on trips to the city, and holding vocational and self defense training.
We want the girls to be independent by the time the pack renovations are complete, so that they will be able to move into their apartments and be functional members of the kingdom.”
She smiles brightly as she explains her hopes for the women, her eyes twinkling with the same passion as Aurora’s.
She gives me a few pointers on how to behave with the girls, emphasizing patience and asking for consent whenever possible to make them feel in control of their lives and decisions trip,” She shrugs.
“Part of our job is helping them feel confident in their own skin and having them see their own worth.Plus going out helps them feel like real people and gives them something to look forward to.”
We enter the third floor where a group of women are gathered around the large recreational area.
Upon seeing Celina, the girls rush to greet her, all of them bowing giddily.
Among the girls is Nadia, the Amethyst wolf I met yesterday.She waves timidly at me, her cheeks blushing as I smile back and wave.
“Guess who gave me his black card?” Celina wiggles her brows, the girls bubbling with excitement.
“Alpha Javier will be hosting today’s shopping spree!” Celina splits the girls into two groups of 10 and assigns them all into a van driven by the three authorized male guards, William, Hayden, and Cory.
The girls seem comfortable with the guards, some joking and laughing with them as we walk into the mall.
Nadia seems a bit smitten with William, but keeps her distance, walking quietly alongside me with her eyes cast down to avoid any eye contact with anyone.
“Would you like to hold my hand?” I ask her, holding out my palm for her to take, hoping to make her feel more comfortable.
“I-it’s okay,” she smiles sheepishly.
“You don’t have too-“
“I don’t mind,” I reply, thinking of the many times Zane calmed me down by simply holding my hand.
“Sometimes we all need Nadia timidly places her hand in mine, her palms a little sweaty and shaky.I feel a small pinch in my heart.How cruel must her life have been for her to be this timid in a shopping mall, afraid to look anyone in the eye? Celina leads us into a little boutique with beautiful summer dresses in the window display, instructing the girls to each pick a dress.
“You are all such beautiful girls,” she says to the group.
“But you have to feel it for yourselves.I can’t always be the one telling you.So pick address and see for yourselves just how perfect you all are.” Several of the girls look nervous but Celina offers a reassuring smile.
“I’ve asked the boutique owner to close up the shop for us while we’re here.It’s just us so don’t be shy.You’re safe with me.”
Some of the nervous smiles remain but the girls spread out, skimming the hundreds of dresses on the racks and filling up the changing rooms.
Celina has a speaker brought by one of the guards and plays some music for a mini fashion show with the girls.
Nadia clings to me, looking anxious about picking a dress.
“What kind of dress do you like?” I ask.
“Do you want a long one or a short one? Sleeves or no sleeves?” She burns bright red and shakes her head.
“I don’t know…I’ve never had a pretty dress before,”she replies quietly, biting her lower lip.
“I was a house keeping omega,” she shrugs.
“I was too ugly for the cleaning and cooking for the Alpha packhouse.”
“Auctions?” I ask, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Yeah,” she nods.
“All girls were raised in the omega house and automatically sold at auctions when we turned 18 by the Alpha.We would reject our mates so no bond could interfere with our duties…No one wanted to buy me so Alpha Nikolai kept me as a servant…”
She looks like she wants to say more, but she bites her lip again and waves her hand in dismissal.
“I’m sorry.That was a stupid thing to say.Ignore me.”
I cup her cheeks, Nadia flinching and stiffening a little at the sudden movement but relaxing when she sees the look in my eyes.
“You are not ugly…..And I will never ignore you.”
Her eyes glaze over but she tries to smile the tears away.
“You don’t have to say that.I know I’m not the prettiest wolf.” I shrug.
“I’m not lying when I say you are not ugly.I’ve seen ugly.My sister for example is an ugly bitch…but you? You are among the most beautiful wolves I’ve ever seen.”
She wipes her eyes in an attempt to hide her tears, but she fails miserably.
I inspect her frame as she collects herself, noting her wide hips and thick thighs, before grabbing her hand and pulling her toa different rack of dresses.
Nadia watches in silence as I push around dresses until I pull out a little pink dress that accentuates the waist and flares out at the hips in the dressing room.I hear her shuffling in the dressing room but she refuses to come out.
“I look silly,” She cries.
“I-I don’t think I can do this.” I think for a moment before knocking on the door.
“Would it help if I try on a dress too? That way we can both come out together.” She sniffles a little and there’s a long pause before she answers.
“O-okay…”I grab a shapeless dress that I know will do absolutely nothing for my figure so that she looks better and I quickly change in the room adjacent to hers.
“Okay, Nadia.You ready?” I call out.
“No,” she groans but regardless, I hear her open the door to her dressing room.
I step out with her and clap ecstatically when I see how gorgeous the dress fits her, the fabric hugging every curve of her body beautifully.
The color looks good on her naturally pale skin, her blue eyes popping against the pink.
There’s a few scars on her arms that she tries to hide by holding her hands over them and it saddens me that she’s constantly reminded of her past.
“You look amazing!” I squeal, trying my best to cheer her up and make her feel good.
She really does look lovely in the dress.
I notice Nadia has caught William’s attention, the guard lightly”I think William likes the dress,”I giggle, Nadia’s face morphing into a tomato when she looks up and locks eyes with William.
Her breath hitches in her throat and she looks back at the ground as if praying that the earth would swallow her.
“N-no,” she protests.
“William is not interested in being my mate right now…he’s still hurt about his last one…She wasn’t who he thought she was…”
“You’re his second chance mate?”
She nods her head, her fingers tugging at the dress.
“And he rejected you?” I ask, cursing mate bonds under my breath.
“No,” she shakes her head, showing me the mark on her neck.
“He marked me so he could be near me but he’s not ready to be my mate just yet …He asked me to wait …so I’m waiting.”
I eye the guard, William managing to look stiff and uninterested.
“He’s very nice,”
Nadia explains, sensing my growing frustration with her mate.
“A little cold and hard to speak to but that’s okay.I’m practically used to it,” she adds sheepishly.
“Maybe in time he’ll learn to accept me,” she says, her voice meek and small.
“At least, I hope I will be enough for him one day.”
“Of course you are enough!”
I snap, hoping he hears me as I knock some sense into her.The tips of his ears turn bright red, so I right to be so cold regardless of his past.I stop mid sentence when I recognize Williams’s behavior…recalling my own cold and unapproachable demeanor with my own mate.
“He’s what?” Nadia asks quizzically, tilting her head to the side.
“Nothing,” I mutter, going over to the dress rack again.
“How about a dress with long sleeves so you’re more comfortable?” I ask, changing the subject completely.
Nadia looks like she wants to ask more but decides against it and smiles at me.
I hand her a dress in a similar style as the one she’s wearing but with longer sleeves.
We spend several minutes trying on different dresses and by the time we leave, I manage to convince her to keep the first little pink dress.
The entire ride home, I think about my situation with Zane.
Despite my best efforts to push him away, Zane is slowly worming his way in.
He refuses to give up on me, playing by my rules, even when my rules were sometimes unfair to him.He’s very sweet ,I tell myself, before remembering how sweet Christian had been in the beginning too.
We arrive back at the pack hospital, the girls raiding the cafeteria for a home cooked meal by the volunteers.
I grab the sack lunch Zane prepared for me this morning, a small note attached to my sandwich.
Thank you for giving me a chance.I won’t let you down.
I stare at the words for a moment, knowing in my heart that I have never truly given him a chance to prove himself to me.
For the rest of the day as I work with some of the girls with their reading, I think about Zane’s note, wondering if it were truly possible for me to give him a chance.I had given Christian a chance but that had been a mistake.
A commotion interrupts my thoughts at the main entrance of the third floor, several of the girls rushing to greet the Queen who has arrived.
She looks worried, her hands curling and uncurling with nerves.
“Natalia,” she calls me over, leading me to a private room to speak to me.
She gestures for me to take a seat at the small table, taking the seat directly in front of me.
She smiles but I can tell Aurora is upset about something.
“I-I..Sorry,” she apologizes, taking a deep breath to relax herself.
“Today while Zane and Kota were playing out in the woods, a group of wolves entered River Moon without our knowledge…and there was an altercation with Kota.” I jump to my feet in an instant, my heart in the pit of my stomach.
“Where is Kota?”I ask, my voice trembling with fear that my baby was hurt or worse, taken touch my hand.
“Zane was with him and he protected him.I just thought you should know.”
“You said Kota was safe here!” I snap at her, pulling my hand away in anger.
“You said I could trust you!”
“You are safe,” Aurora replies, a bit of hurt in her voice.
“My men were on the scene as soon as we discovered the intrusion but even without my guards, Zane shifted and took care of your pup.He didn’t let anyone hurt him.”
“And I’m just supposed to just be grateful that my baby wasn’t hurt this time?” I scoff.
“What about the next time a wolf decides to just stroll into River Moon without anyone noticing? Should I be grateful for you then too?”
“Dakota was never in any real danger,” Aurora snaps.
“The wolves that came by are from our mother pack in France, Lune de Minuit.Alpha Jacque and his son, Benoit, came here to discuss the whereabouts of their daughter, Adeline and inquire about their assets in Artaud Inc, our pack company.Lune de Minuit holds shares in the company and they are not pleased with all the investments we’ve made regarding the Amethyst Lake women.They’ll be staying here while Oliver renegotiates the terms of their agreements.Adeline used to handle Lune de Minuit’s assets but she disappeared a couple months ago after orchestrating an attack against Oliver and I…”
“Wow, you are really selling the safety of your pack here,” I mumble sarcastically for her all around the world and we have reason to believe she’s not even in the States anymore.
She has a lot of connections in Europe and is most likely hiding out there.”
“So what does that mean for Kota and I?” I ask.
“Are we truly safe here?”
“River Moon is the safest place for Kota right now.He has Zane to protect him and he has all of River Moon on his side ready to defend him should it ever come to that.” Aurora reassures me.
“I give you my word, you and Kota are part of River Moon.You’re one of us now and we protect our own.”
“I find that hard to believe,” I mutter under my breath, recalling what an outsider I was in my own pack despite being told otherwise.
“I can’t make you stay,” Aurora sighs, her shoulders drooping in disappointment.
“But Guinevere wanted you here for a reason.If you trust her as I know you do, then you should also trust her judgment and trust in us.Regardless, if you wish to leave, I will help you make arrangements elsewhere.”
I have no more trust to give, Silver Crest tarnishing whatever faith I had in werewolves a long time ago.
Leaving pack life is all I’ve ever wanted for the past four years.
But I also couldn’t lie to myself either.
Kota would one day become a wolf, and no matter how much I hated that fact, he would need another wolf to help guide him.
The only problem is, who would be the wolf? feet.
“This is an important decision and while I want you to stay, you know what’s best for you and Kota.”
My head reels with all my thoughts as I try to figure out what to do.
Gwen wanted me here but I am beyond stressed in this environment.
These wolves seem nice and caring, but I had once fallen for my former pack’s kindness only to realize they were nothing but a pack of snakes.I could not allow myself to trust any of them just yet.I make my way back to the guest house, completely exhausted from my inner turmoil as I think about what I would say to Zane regarding the minor altercation he had with those wolves.
I had made it clear that his wolf form is forbidden near Kota but I also realize he shifted to protect my baby and I could not ignore that either.
My feet carry me into the kitchen where I find a simple dinner already prepared.
The house is quiet and I tiptoe upstairs where I find Zane fast asleep in the bedrooms, Dakota curled up on top of his stomach, already dressed in his Pj’s with a small story book by his side.
I can’t help the incredible warmth that seeps into my soul as I watch my baby cuddle with the only real male figure in his life so far.
Kota has never really asked about his father but I know it is only a matter of time before he realizes that someone important is missing in his life.
He needs a father…
A little voice in my head says as I watch the two sleep peacefully together, but the thought of letting another man in frightens me.
Zane is not Christian, The voice reminds me once more…
He deserves a chance too.
My feet move towards the bed before I realize it and I climb in next to the boys, laying my head on Zane’s shoulder.
Zane stirs almost immediately, his body stiffening when he realizes it’s me.
His reaction reminds me of Nadia and a sad thought enters my mind.
Had Zane also escaped a pack from hell too? Is that the reason for his scars? He remains frozen and I can tell he’s holding his breath.
I gently stroke Kota’s hair with my fingers, pushing away some hair from his little forehead.
I look up at Zane, his brown eyes so intensely beautiful, I almost forget my question.
“Will you go on a date with me?”